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Britflicks is delighted to speak with Terry Stone (TS), writer, producer and lead actor in Simon Rumley’s British gangster film epic, ONCE UPON A TIME IN LONDON.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN LONDON charts the rise and demise of two of the UK’s most dangerous gangsters, Billy Hill and Jack ‘Spot’ Comer.
Q) How did ONCE UPON A TIME IN LONDON come about?
TS: It came about due to a family connection with Jack Spot and having heard the many stories and myths growing up, I became very interested, or you could say obsessed, in pulling together a period crime film. I wondered why there had never been a film made about the birth of organised crime in the UK - along the lines of the epic ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ - and so, in the spring of 2011, I started working with William Gilbey on pulling all these stories and myths together and creating “the British Gangster Film of all British Gangster Films.” I developed ‘Rise of The Footsoldier’ in exactly the same way and that went on to become one of the best British Gangster films of all time.
Q) Tell us about the film?
TS: It’s a Shakespearean tragedy about two Jewish immigrants that shows the birth of proper organised crime in this country with the rise and fall of the undisputed King of the Underworld Jack “The Spot” Comer and how Billy Hill, once taken under his wing, ended up double-crossing him and taking over Jack’s throne.
Q) Simon Rumley is a fantastically talented director who we associate with the horror genre. So the fact that Simon’s directing a British gangster film is very exciting, how did he come on board?
TS: We met through Jezz Vernon, a mutual friend, and we just clicked. What Simon brings to the party is first class performances from the actors, a high level of tension, plenty of suspense and extreme, graphic violence which you really need for this film to elevate it from the usual low budget gangster films that are being made on an almost weekly basis at the moment.
Q) Tell us about your character Jack 'Spot' Comer?
TS: He grew up with the first world war going on in a life of poverty in East London. Being Jewish he was the butt of everyone’s jokes, bullied constantly and he ended up fighting continuously. Sticking with his Jewish brothers, they all ended up becoming products of their environment, falling into a life of crime and cutting or slashing people on a regular basis was no big deal. He soon worked out that there was money to be earned out of protecting businesses and people which grew into protection rackets and organised crime on a national scale.
Q) Has he always been a character you have wanted to play?
TS: Absolutely! As we were developing the screenplay I would look at the character saying ‘wow’ I would love to play that part’, but because of the responsibility of making an epic period crime film and the massive associated costs with making this type of film, I honestly thought it wasn’t meant to be and I was always going to play one of the supporting characters. In fact, we’d cast Eddie Marsan as Jack. Then due to a twist of fate or luck (depending on how you look at it) he ended up not being available until later this year. After speaking with my Producing Partner Richard Turner he pretty much said ‘Terry. Jack, that’s you!! Play the part as you may not ever get another opportunity like this to show people what you can do with such a great character’. My agent also begged me to do it and said if I didn’t do it I was an idiot and I would regret it for the rest of my life. When we cast Leo Gregory as Billy I had a conversation with Simon Rumley, the director, and we did some work together on the script and we read all the scenes with all the other actors and then we got to the point where Simon was like let’s go for it and the rest as they say is history.
Q) Does being in the starring role whilst also being a producer create any extra pressure?
TS: It does but I do have some outstanding Producing partners who I work with in Richard Turner, Tiernan Hanby and Chris Howard. Tiernan has pulled together an amazing crew of people for this film who have over the past three weeks delivered the goods in every department and this helps ease any pressures, it’s when people don’t deliver and don’t their jobs properly that I start turning green and ripping all my clothes.
Q) You’ve got a great cast with some great British gangster film pedigree: Leo Gregory, Geoff Bell, Jamie Foreman, Doug Allen, Roland Manookian, Josh Myers, Andy Beckwith…. How did you go about the casting process?
TS: When we started casting this film we wanted to cast the who’s who of every good British Crime/Hooligan/Gangster film over the past twenty years. There were a few faces who weren’t available or we couldn’t afford so that’s why a few of the names that you may expect to make an appearance in this film don’t.
Q) Making a period Gangster film is no easy task, what have been the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome?
TS: Finding the filming locations was a big challenge as nothing looks like it did in the 1930’s – 1940’s. Plus the costume department had to be able to dress 58 actors and hundreds of extras without having a huge budget to spend on costumes. There are a lot of stunts and fights in this film as well as other obstacles but the locations and the costumes for a period film to me would always be the biggest challenges and the biggest costs.
Q) When are you hoping to get the film released?
TS: It could be late this year or it could be early 2018. It will all depend on what date the UK distributor feels is the best for release.
Q) Are there any other British Gangsters you’d like to bring back to life on the Silver screen?
TS: Loads…watch this space! 😊
Q) Any more films in the pipeline?
TS: I have lots of film in development at the moment but production-wise I will be making (alongside my various partners) a 3D animation entitled “The Claus Supremacy”, a film about the Beatles entitled “The Longest Cocktail Party”, a film about The Shah of Iran entitled “King of King’s” and a documentary about my previous life as one of the world’s biggest club promoters entitled “King of Clubs”.
Thank you Terry Stone for taking time out to talk to Britflicks!
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